Bollinger RD, 1959-1997
A remarkable vertical tasting of this incredible Champagne


‘RD was conceived 50 years ago by Madame Bollinger,’ says Jérôme Philipon, president of Bollinger, as he outlined the key characteristics of this remarkable wine. ‘RD 1952, released in 1961, was the first.’ Here, we tried six wines, spanning four decades, in a remarkable tasting over lunch. Not much spitting.

RD, which stands for récemment dégorgé (recently disgorged), is exclusively made with grapes from Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards. The varietal balance is usually 70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay: no Pinot Meunier is used. The wine is exclusively based on the first press fraction, known as the cuvée. For the second fermentation the wine is bottled under natural cork, as opposed to the normal crown cap. ‘This makes the wine able to age far longer,’ explains Philipon.

Bollinger Chef du Cave Matthieu Kauffmann 

The wine stays on its lees for a long time, typically 8–10 years. The riddling and disgorgement are manual, and the dosage used is low (3–4 g/litre). ‘This was decided back in 1960 and has remained that way,’ says Philipon.

‘We have made 18 vintages over the years,’ he reports, ‘and here we have chosen 6 out of the top 8 wines to show.’

Effectively, RD is the same blend as Grande Année (Bollinger’s prestige-level vintage cuvée, only made in favourable years) that has been aged on its lees for a very long time.

It’s really interesting to compare the effect of ageing Champagne on its lees versus ageing it in bottle. In bottle, the interaction with lees is complex, and largely reductive, resulting in a fresher wine with real complexity. Personally, I love the RD style.

Winemaker Matthieu Kauffmann introduced the wines, which spanned four decades. Working through these wines was one of my great Champagne tasting experiences.



Bollinger RD 1997
65% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay. pH 3.01, acid 5.3 g/l. Disgorged 4 Jan 2010. Matthieu says that 1997 was a year of contrasts, with a good harvest following a difficult summer. A wet winter was followed by cold weather during flowering, leading to some millerandage. It starter out a wet summer with lots of mildew, but hot dry weather followed, before a cold September, which reduced the botrytis risk. Yield was 9400 kg/hectare, with 10.2 potential alcohol and 8.4 g acid. The wine shows a smooth, aromatic, toasty nose with hints of pear and fudge, as well as some meaty, savoury notes. The palate is crisp and fresh with taut acidity, and some savoury, almost mineral toasty notes. Lean, intense, precise and focused. Dry and structured. 93/100

Bollinger RD 1996
70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay. 12.1% alcohol, pH 2.92, 6 g/l acid. Disgorged 15 Oct 2007. An exceptional, incredible year, according to Matthieu. The summer was hot and it began to rain in August. September had low night time temperatures, helping preserve acidity. Harvest began 16 Sep with excellent weather. Yield was 10 300 kg/hectare, with both high sugar (10% potential alcohol) and high acid (10 g). Amazingly fresh and precise. Citrussy, taut and subtly toasty with lovely fresh aromatics. The palate is fresh, pure and mineral with tight citrusy complexity and some toastiness. Very fine, with high acidity. Long, subtly bready finish. Fine and precise. 96/100

Bollinger RD 1995
63% Pinot Noir, 37% Chardonnay. pH 2.86 (the lowest ever recorded here), 6.2 g acid. This was a hot summer with fast maturation. 9.2% alcohol, 8.7 g acid. Disgorged 15 Oct 2006. No malolactic, so the acidity is actually higher than the 1996. Distinctive, tight bready nose with nice savoury freshness. The palate is fresh and citrusy with a savoury, toasty, bready edge and a lemony finish. Fresh, bright and taut with lovely precision. 94/100

Bollinger RD 1988
72% Pinot Noir, 28% Chardonnay. pH 2.97, 5.6 g/l acidity. Disgorged 4 May 2010. This was a late, rainy season, with average yield of 9000 kg/hectare. 9.2% alcohol, 9.4 g acidity. Taut, toasty nose showing some nice evolution. The palate is precise, complex and mineral with precision, subtlety and intensity. Lovely complexity here: an elegant, balanced wine with real finesse. 96/100

Bollinger RD 1976
65% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay. 12.2% alcohol, pH 3.1, 4.8 g/l acidity. Disgorged 4 May 2010. Very dry, hot summer – the hottest since 1959 – led to an early harvest, which began on 1 September. Alcohol 10.5%, acid 6.7 g. Yield 10359 kg/ha. Deep yellow/gold colour. Complex but mellow toasty nose still has lots of life in it. The palate is taut and fresh with a lemony edge to the toasty fruit. Mellow, complex and refined, with the acid tasting higher than the figures suggest. 95/100

Bollinger RD 1959
65% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay. 12.2% alcohol, 6.3 g/l acidity. Disgorged 4 May 2010. This was a hot summer with excellent maturity in the grapes: the best potential alcohol for 100 years. Matthieu describes this as ‘more like a Sauternes with bubbles’. Wonderfully complex mushroom and toast character on the nose: mature, complex and nicely savoury. The palate is fruity (apricots) with some nutty, savoury depth. Thrilling stuff—distinctive, savoury, long and still very lively. 95/100
See also:

My report on a visit to Bollinger

Wines tasted 07/10  
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